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United States v. Yunis

    Brief Fact Summary
    Yunis (Defendant) argued that the Government (Plaintiff) could not prosecute him for a hijacking that he perpetrated when its only connection to the United States was that several Americans were on board the plane.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    The federal government may prosecute an airline hijacker even if the hijacking’s only connection with the United States was the presence of Americans on board the plane.

    Facts
    Yunis (Defendant) and several accomplices hijacked a Jordanian airliner while it was on the ground in Beirut. The plane flew to several locations around the Mediterranean Sea, and eventually flew back to Beirut, where the hijackers blew up the plane and then escaped into the hills. The only connection between the whole event and the United States was that several Americans were on board the whole time. Yunis (Defendant) was indicted for violating the Hostage Taking Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1203. He was apprehended, and later indicted under the Destruction of Aircraft Act, 18 U.S.C. § 32. He moved to dismiss on grounds of jurisdiction.

    Issue
    May the federal government prosecute an airline hijacker even if the hijacking’s only connection with the United States was the presence of several Americans on board the plane?

    Held
    (Parker, J.) Yes. The federal government may prosecute an airline hijacker even if the hijacking’s only connection with the United States was the presence of Americans on board the plane. There must be jurisdiction under both international and domestic law in order for jurisdiction to exist in the situation of this case. International law relates to the power of Congress to have extraterritorial application of its law; domestic law relates to its intent to do so. International law recognizes several bases for a nation to give extraterritorial application to its laws. One is the “universal principle.†Some acts are considered to be so heinous and contrary to civilization that any court may assert jurisdiction. The acts that fall within this category are mainly defined by international convention. The universal principle applies because numerous conventions condemn hijacking and hostage taking. The “passive personal principle†is also relevant, which applies to offenses against a nation’s citizens abroad. The United States has been slow to recognize this principle, but it is now generally agreed upon. International law having been disposed of on this issue, domestic law must now be discussed. The Hostage Taking Law, at subsection (b)(1)(A), clearly includes an offender that has seized or detained a U.S. citizen. The language could not be plainer. With regard to the Destruction of Aircraft Act and the Federal Aviation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 31, that the law was intended to apply only when the aircraft in question either began or ended its flight in the United States. Since the flight in question did not do this, the Act does not apply. Motion denied in part; granted in part.

    Discussion
    There are three other existing bases for jurisdiction that are generally accepted. These are territorial (jurisdiction over territory), national (jurisdiction over a person) and protective (jurisdiction necessary to protect a state.) Of the five generally recognized jurisdictional grounds, the passive personal principle has been met with the most resistance by U.S. courts and officials.


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